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Large fire consumes vacant building in BR after overnight arson rekindled

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BATON ROUGE - A fire at a vacant building sparked again, prompting firefighters to deal with another raging inferno on St. Gerard Avenue Thursday morning.

Initially, the fire department was called to a building at the corner of St. Gerard and Maple Drive around midnight.  A fire was set in a storage area and burned a small portion of the first floor of the two-story building.  It took fire crews about 30 minutes to get the fire under control.

But, about six hours later, the fire rekindled and spread rapidly.

Shortly after 6 Thursday morning, the fire department returned to flames erupting from the roof.

The Baton Rouge Fire Department said it's likely embers were trapped in an interior wall and continued to burn after the initial fire.  The rekindled fire burned up the wall and into the roof where it quickly engulfed the attic. 

When they arrived the second time, firefighters tried to go inside the building, but said they retreated when they determined the fire had damaged the structure so badly, it was unsafe.  

The initial fire in the storage room is considered arson, the fire department said. 

There were no injuries.

According to tax records, the property is owned by the Capital Area Family Violence Intervention Center, which is known as IRIS, the domestic violence crisis center.  The organization said Thursday, it moved out of the building about a year ago and were trying to sell the property.  There had been issues with keeping the building secure before the fire, the agency's director told WBRZ.  

"with any vacant property, we have had some challenges with regard to securing the premises," John Price said. "Baton Rouge has a large homeless population, as you are aware. We have had some of those challenges over here with individuals going into the building unauthorized."

IRIS had owned the building for some 40 years after taking it from the nearby Catholic church which used it at as a convent.  

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